arms and armour

arms and armour

What Woods Were Used for Shields in East Yorkshire?

An oblong bronze shield with a rib down the long axis which swells into an elipse over the center
This all-bronze shield from around 400-250 BCE represents the shape of northern European shields in the first millennium BCE (exact shapes and sizes vary and most were of wood with a few iron or bronze parts). The Chertsey Shield, British Museum, Museum number 1986,0901.1 © The Trustees of the British Museum https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/H_1986-0901-1

I am writing a post with this very specific title because I have added some more archaeological sites to What Woods Were Used for Shields in Iron Age Europe? Most importantly, I added sites from the pre-Roman “Arras Culture” of the wolds of East Yorkshire (and more shields from early Anglo-Saxon cemeteries in Yorkshire). In this post, I will give more details than I can include in a list in the original post!

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Aristotle on the Pelte Shield

excerpt from a scholarly edition of four ancient Greek texts
Fragment 498 from Valentini Rose (ed.), Aristotelis qui ferebantur librorum fragmenta (Teubner: Stuttgart, 1967)

Those of us who grew up on Peter Connolly remember that Aristotle defines the pelte shield (Greece and Rome at War p. 48 “Auxiliary Troops”). What did he actually say? A bit of research in March lead me to fragment 498 in Valentine Rose’s Teubner edition of the ‘fragments’ of Aristotle. In classical philology, fragments are places where a surviving text cites or paraphrases a text which is now lost. Only rarely is a fragment literally a damaged manuscript or a scrap of papyrus. Four different texts give some version of Aristotle’s words, but I will translate the version in a commentary on Plato’s Laws:

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How Thick Were La Tène Shields?

This century, researchers such as Roland Warzecha have worked to spread awareness that most round centergrip shields from the Baltic were rather thin in the centre and even thinner at the edges. An overall thickness, including wood, skins, and any intermediate layers, of about 8 mm in the centre and 4 mm at the edge is typical from the sacrifices at Illerup Ådal around 200 CE to late Viking Era graves around 1000 CE. We do not know as much about shields in dryer, warmer parts of Europe where it was not customary to deposit arms in lakes and bogs. But we can study the surviving shields from La Tène on Lake Neuchâtel in Switzerland. If you read the original reports, you will learn many things which Peter Connolly did not tell you.

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What Woods were Used for Shields in Iron Age Europe?

two bundles of planks on a yellow plastic deck chair. One bundle is longer thin white planks, the other is shorter thicker red planks
16 linear feet of 5/16″ thick tilia Americana (left) and 9 linear feet of 2″ thick alnus rubra (right)

People often guess that particular kinds of wood were used for shields in ancient Europe, including hard, dense woods like oak and soft, brittle woods like pine. But did you know that we can just examine the objects they left behind and see what woods the ancients used? Or that ancient writers tell us which woods are best for making shields and why? This week, I will list the woods used in some surviving ancient shields and then quote those ancient writers.

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Call For Sources: Spears in the Imperium Romanum

An intact spear and buckler from the famous excavations at La Tène, Switzerland. Planche II of P. Vouga, “La Tène: Quatrième Rapport, Foulles de 1910 et 1911,” Musée Neuchâtelois, XLIXme Année (1912) pp. 7-15 http://doc.rero.ch/record/12454

There are many great publications of Germanic, British, and Celtic spears. Are there any published spears from the imperium Romanum, especially the eastern half? Or from pre-imperial Italy? I’m curious about what woods were used, how the diameter varies from point to butt, and the overall length.

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The Scale Armour from Yanghai

a leather scale armour from an archaeological excavation, and a pattern drawing
The Yanghai armour. Figure 6 from https://doi.org/10.1016/j.quaint.2021.11.014

Some comments on Patrick Wertmann et al., “No borders for innovations: A ca. 2700-year-old Assyrian-style leather scale armour in Northwest China.” Quaternary International, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.quaint.2021.11.014 It has been discussed on Sci Newswww.spektrum.dehttps://www.media.uzh.ch/Science DailyHeritagedaily among others.

The cemetery at Yanghai in Uighur territory continues to give. This week, an article about hide scale armour in a grave there has been circulating on the Internet and corporate social media. The grave had other cool things, like a wooden bedstead and a wooden fire drill, but most of the attention has focused on the authors’ claims that the armour was made within the Neo-Assyrian Empire. Unfortunately, that claim is the weakest part of a strong article.

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Translating Fiore’s Armour Jargon Correctly

as a man in late medeival armour bends down to pull off his coat of mail, another man in armour stabs him in the flank with a sword
BGE Ms. fr. 190/1 Des cas des nobles hommes et femmes (painted in Paris around the year 1410) https://manuscriptminiatures.com/3991/10007

The self-taught scholars in the historical fencing world do many things well, but their translations of arms-and-armour terms are not always the best. A story from ancient Persia, how Artabanus murdered the king and his older sons and then was killed in turn by the young son he meant to use as a figurehead, helps us improve our translations. This story is available in the original Latin and in French and Italian translations written and illustrated during Fiore’s lifetime, so we can compare the Latin terms to the French or Italian terms to the paintings.

In Fiore’s sword in armour, both Tom Leoni and Colin Hatcher translate lo camaglio as “the mail coif.” It obviously means “camail: drape of mail hanging from a headpiece to protect the throat and the sides of the head.” Warriors in Fiore’s day no longer wore a complete hood of mail, but they often wore a camail to protect their faces and necks. In the picture above, two soldiers in the background have blue steel camails attached to their grey headpieces. Perhaps the blue indicates that the mail has been quenched in water and tempered by reheating to around 650-700 degrees Fahrenheit (Giambattista della Porta describes this in Natural Magic, book 13, chapter 4).

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Cross-Post: FS Geibig Erscheint

In honour of his retirement from Veste Coburg, a Festschrift for arms-and-armour scholar Alfred Geibig has been published. Contributions in English and ?German? are by Heiko Berger, Raphael Beuing, Dirk H. Breiding, Heiner Grieb, Heinz Huther, Armin König, Arne J. Koets, Stefan Mäder, Jürg A. Meier, Ingo Petri, Christopher Retsch, Mario Scalini, Tobias Schönauer, Jens... Continue reading: Cross-Post: FS Geibig Erscheint

How Long are the Spears of the Warriors at Susa?

A glazed brick relief of a man holding a spear in both hands next to a clenched fist.  The fist gripping the spear and the live fist are aboout the same size.
One of the polychrome brick reliefs from Achaemenid Susa, now in the Louvre, Paris.

In an earlier post, I talked about the guards in Persian reliefs from Susa who are 17 bricks tall and have spears 19 or 21 bricks tall. Artists often ‘improve’ human proportions according to different ideas of what the well-formed body looks like: these guards are 5 2/3 bearded faces tall (17/3), Cennino Cennini would have them 6 1/2 bearded faces tall (26/4).

When I visited the Louvre in July I had a chance to look at some of those reliefs for the first time since 2016 (a few are on display behind glass in Tehran). As you see, my hand and the hand of the sculpture are about the same size (and I am not particularly tall or short). My hand is slightly closer to the camera than the sculpture is, so it is slightly enlarged.
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